Regina shifted uncomfortably, despite the plush nature of the seat. This was very much so outside of her comfort zone, but Emma's words the day prior had stuck with her. She did want to change for their relationship to succeed – she just had no idea how to stop the downward spiral that occurred when she felt too vulnerable. So… there she sat, nervous and anxious.
"Would you like me to know anything?"
She stared Archie down until he wilted under the pressure. He reached up, fiddled with his glasses, and cleared his throat. It was difficult enough to open up to Emma, she thought, and now she was trying to force herself into opening up to a bug. This was a mistake, but she couldn't get up and leave.
"I don't know."
"Well, let's start with something simple. How are you doing today?"
Regina averted her gaze, and he visibly relaxed. He waited, pen poised over a pad of paper, until she said, "I'm well today."
"I'm sensing a good deal of stress."
Though she could have denied it, she merely shrugged. "I have much on my mind."
"I don't want to guess. So, please, whatever you feel comfortable telling me…" He smiled encouragingly. "It's an enormous step to even come to me, so I understand if you need to take things slow. This is at your pace, Mayor Mills, and I don't want you to say anything you don't want to, but I want you to know that anything you say to me will not leave this room. I have professional standards."
"You got your degree from a curse," Regina muttered. He heard her but didn't let the jab affect his smile. After a moment of silence, Regina sighed. "My relationship with Ms. Swan."
"What about it?"
Admitting ignorance was not easy, but Regina forced her mouth to move. "I don't know what I'm doing."
"That's very normal." Archie scribbled a few notes on his notepad and eyed Regina almost warily. She knew he had reason to be somewhat apprehensive about her sudden appearance and demand of his services, but she needed him too much right now to do anything to harm him in any way. "Do you want to tell me how it began?"
That seemed innocent enough so Regina shrugged. "She was having difficulty sleeping after we returned from Neverland. For whatever reason, she determined that she needed my assistance, which I provided."
"I'm not sure what spawned her insomnia-"
"I mean, why did you help her?"
Regina cleared her throat. "She's the sheriff of this town, Dr. Hopper. A sleep-deprived sheriff with a loaded weapon? That scenario can only end poorly."
"I'm sure that's what you told her. I'm asking why you really did." Archie eyed her, and suddenly she felt as though his gaze was dissecting her. "If you're not comfortable-"
"She is the birth mother of my son," Regina stated bluntly. It was quite nearly the truth, and she hoped it would be enough to throw Archie off his current line of questioning. She was there willingly, but she still wasn't sure how much she needed to bare to him in order to have her purpose fulfilled.
"The more honest you are, Madam Mayor, the more you'll get out of these sessions."
The reminder that there would be more hours of this made Regina stiffen. Of course, she thought to herself, she couldn't expect any sort of major change in one short hour of talking to the bug – but she hadn't truly considered the effort that would be required. She wondered momentarily if Emma was working as hard as she was to make their relationship work.
"Madam Mayor?" Archie set his pen down. "Would you care to tell me why?"
"Because I have cared for Ms. Swan much longer than I care to admit." Regina resisted the urge to fiddle with the hem of her blouse. She hated such uneasy gestures and preferred to portray herself as a calm, unflappable woman of poise and grace. Still, speaking about her feelings was sending nervous tingles throughout her body.
"She's easy to care for."
"Perhaps to you. It hasn't been easy for me."
Archie nodded slowly. "I suppose your past hasn't-"
"You know nothing of my past."
"Excuse me – I misspoke. I merely meant, from what I know, I can guess that you-"
"Do not make assumptions about me. I will not sit here and-"
"Madam Mayor." Archie lifted his hands, palms flat. Regina stood and contemplated marching to the door. "You're free to leave whenever you want, but I will say that you won't progress if you walk out. Your defense mechanism is to fight back – you strike when someone gets too close because you'd rather hurt someone else than be hurt yourself, but that simply will not work any longer. Not if you want this relationship to work."
"I can do this on my own."
"At the risk of offending you further…" He swallowed awkwardly. "You're how old?"
Begrudgingly, she responded, "Thirty-four."
"And in those thirty-four years, have you been able to become the person you want to be? By yourself?" Regina stood silently, rage and confusion bubbling in her stomach until Archie continued. "Change isn't impossible, Regina. But sometimes we need a helping hand."
"You presume that you will be mine."
"You came to me. I'd like to help you."
"Nobody is beyond help, and it's my job to help all who need me." Archie watched her slowly take her seat once more. "More than that, Henry is a very special boy – and if I can help him by helping you, I'll do it."
"When I was a child, my mother made it very clear that emotions were weakness. My father raised hunting dogs, and I had a favorite. His name was Neves. I could tell that mother wasn't pleased with our friendship, but it was one of the rare times that father stepped in on my behalf. I was outside one afternoon, in the woods nearby the castle, when I ran into a bear. Neves attacked it so I could run to safety. Father took some men into the woods and killed the bear, but not in time to save Neves. Mother told me it was my fault. My love for Neves got him killed because he would never have been in that position if not for me.
"I didn't take her seriously, as father assured me that Neves died saving me – my love didn't kill him, but his love saved me. At the time, I clung to father's words. Now, though, I understand the message mother was actually trying to instill in me. Emotions compromise your decisions. If not for his love for me, Neves wouldn't have attacked that bear. Over the years, that lesson has reoccurred more times than I wish to talk about.
"When I discovered my emotional attachment to Ms. Swan…" Regina paused for a moment and let her eyes rove the walls. "I was displeased. Not with Ms. Swan, but with myself. I had been compromised and I had done nothing to stop it. This woman would lead to my downfall – it was inevitable – and now I couldn't even hate her for it. All of my anger turned inward, against myself. I had let this happen. The only way to rectify the situation was not to simply run Ms. Swan out of town, but to make sure she never reappeared in my life again."
"So you gave her a poisoned apple turnover."
Regina nodded stiffly. "Though poison is a strong word. It simply would have put her to sleep. In the end, I fear that Henry's kiss would have awoken her the same way hers awoke him. At the time, though, it felt like the only option to keep myself from caring too deeply – to avoid ruining my life's work over such a silly feeling like love."
"You love her?"
Archie wrote a few words down on his notepad. "What do you plan to do about this feeling now?"
"Nothing harmful. At least nothing directly and purposefully harmful." Regina glared at him, wondering if this was some sort of accusation. He smiled weakly.
"I meant more, are you planning on allowing yourself to love?"
"When Daniel was brought back to me, his last words-"
Regina clenched her eyes closed and forced her voice to remain steady. "He told me to love again. But how can I? Everything I love either dies for me or by my own hand. They compromise themselves in my name. Emma cannot follow the same path as Neves, and she's foolhardy enough to fight a bear."
"And yes, I do realize that Emma will probably never run into a bear while in Storybrooke, but the principle is the same. She will undoubtedly endanger her own life because she…" Regina glanced away. "She cares for me."
"One thing I want you to be aware of is that you can't control other people. Regardless of what you want, Emma will feel what she feels for you – and she'll act however she wants to act based upon her own experience. It hurts to see our loved ones getting hurt, but you have to remember that they make choices, just as we do, and those choices affect what happens to them."
Emma rapped on the door and waited as patiently as she could. After the weekend, her mind was once again buzzing with the mystery Pizza Parlor and the wishing presented. She wanted to get over to Spencer's office soon, but first there was something that had been on her mind. The connection wishing had to children was very interesting to her.
"Ms. Foxworth, I don't know if you remember me-"
"Jenny's okay. And I remember you. You're the sheriff, right?"
Emma smiled. "Yeah, that's me. I was hoping I could ask you a quick question."
Jenny glanced over her shoulder nervously. "Well, I'm not really supposed to let people inside when my mom's not home."
"We can talk right here, if that's okay with you. I don't think you're guilty of anything or something like that." Emma folded her arms over her chest and leaned against the front pillar of the home. "Just one easy question."
"In the past week or so, have you happened to make any sort of wish?"
Jenny's face paled and her eyes darted to the side. "Wish?"
"Kid, I have this superpower where I can tell when someone's lying to me, and I can tell right now. So come on. The truth."
"I maybe wished once, yes."
"What was it for?"
"I just didn't want Mr. Fagin to be in trouble!"
"What sort of trouble?"
"An older guy kept coming by."
"A friend of Mr. Fagin's?"
"I don't think so. I think the guy scared Mr. Fagin, and once I heard them yelling about money. So I wished that Mr. Fagin could have some way of getting more money."
The wish could account for the dog-to-human transformation, Emma thought, but she couldn't quite be sure. "Are you familiar with Artie?"
"About when did he start working for Mr. Fagin?"
Jenny closed her eyes. "A day after I made my wish."
"What do you know about Artie?" Emma waited a minute or so for Jenny to answer, but the young girl seemed to be mulling her options over. Emma tried to determine what she could do so as to convince Jenny that talking was the best way to go. The kid seemed rather attached to Fagin, Emma thought, so she added, "I know Mr. Fagin is in a bit of trouble right now, but I'm trying to figure out what's happening. If I can get to the bottom of this, I can help him. If you tell me what you know, you're helping me help him."
Jenny gnawed momentarily on her lower lip. "Okay, so Mr. Fagin used to have a five dogs… but the thing is, I don't really see them anymore. They used to hang out by the dumpster while he was at work, but they're not there anymore. I was looking for them that morning when I ran into you."
"What else can you tell me?"
"We live in a weird town." Emma smiled as gently as she could. "So just try me. And remember, I spent a month in Neverland, with Tinkerbell and Peter Pan and Captain Hook, and just before that I was fighting ogres in an Enchanted Forest. I'm pretty much ready to believe anything at this point."
"I think…" Jenny's brow furrowed. "I think Artie is one of his dogs. I don't know how, though, but I think he is. It's not possible, is it? That my wish did that?"
"It's probably not related," Emma lied. "But… just to be safe, I'm going to have to ask you to not wish for anything for a little while. The Mayor and I are working through the magical aspects of what's going on, and until then we don't want you to accidentally put yourself in danger. Alright?"
"Yeah." Jenny hung her head. "I just wanted to help him."
"You're helping him right now."
Emma marched down the street, deep in thought and barely paying attention to her surroundings. So focused was she that she didn't notice the girl in front of her, and only figured it out once they had crashed into one another. The girl picked herself up, dusted her dress off, and fiddled with a strand of orange hair.
"You were talking to Jenny."
Emma blinked. "Yeah. Police business. Can't discuss it with you."
She stared at the girl, trying to place why the red-head looked so familiar. The girl nodded slowly, eyes not on Emma, but on Jenny's house. Emma cleared her throat and tried to excuse herself, but the girl quickly darted in front of her when she tried to leave.
"Please don't get Jenny dragged into this."
"Who are you, exactly?"
"I'm Olivia," the girl said reproachfully. "I helped you leave Arthur a tip the other day."
"Ah, right. Sorry. It's been a bit of a whirlwind lately. Sorry, again. So what's going on? Why are you so concerned about Jenny?"
Olivia shrugged. "The stuff going on with Mr. Fagin is – not so nice business, okay? I just don't want that business hurting her."
"It won't, but why so worried?"
"I…" Olivia sighed. "Okay, so you can't tell anyone."
"I won't," Emma stated, though already she knew it to be a lie. David would have to be informed of all the developments, and she had a compulsion to keep Regina fully informed as well. "Jenny won't get hurt and neither will you."
"I'm her kitten." Olivia's gaze flittered down to the cement. "She made that wish and – just like the dogs, it made me human. I don't know why, or if it'll last, or whatever, but-"
"Were you eavesdropping on our conversation?"
"Yeah," Olivia admitted, no shame in her eyes. "Someone has to look out for her."
"If you promise to keep me updated with what's happening between Mr. Fagin and Mr. Spencer, I promise I'll do everything in my power to keep Jenny safe and out of this. How does that sound to you?"
Olivia cocked one eyebrow. "Aren't you supposed to do that anyway?"
"Well, yeah. Not purposely put her in danger – and come when called – but if you help me out, I'll take some sort of precaution. I'll see about getting someone to keep an eye on her."
Olivia's lips twitched back and forth, making Emma think of a cat's tail flicking behind it. "Okay. But you can't come around. I'll find you."
"Okay." Emma stepped to the side and walked past the little red-head. "Just find me every few days, then. Even if it's just to tell me nothing new is happening."
"And you'll get someone over here."
Emma nodded and lifted a hand in parting. She couldn't ask David to pull that sort of work, so she sorted through a list of names in her head. Hook would do it, she decided, if she asked nicely. And by nicely, she meant smiling a little and batting her eyes. She did feel fleeting remorse about using her feminine wiles in this fashion – but he was so hell bent on proving his worth to her. If he'd just calm down, she thought, they might make good friends. They had enough in common, but she simply wasn't interested in him as more than that.
He was persistent, but she'd always felt that she knew one way or another about someone pretty quickly. With Regina there had been an immediate spark, at least from Emma's perspective. Even if things had never turned romantic, she knew her relationship with the other woman would be intense. Emma recalled their first drink together and smirked. She should have known, she thought.
"I don't know if I can handle that," Regina said. "Her making dangerous decisions without my input."
"I'd like to posit you are most comfortable when you are fully in control?"
She snorted. "What gave you that impression?"
"When cursing everyone, you put yourself in the position of ultimate control. As mayor, you oversee everything that happens in this town. You adopted a son – because as a mother of a young child, you control everything he eats, everywhere he goes, and everything he is allowed to do-"
"It was rhetorical," she snapped. She knew it was just his job, but his keen insight into her life and person made her uneasy. Nobody was supposed to be able to read her like this, she thought. She prided herself on being unpredictable and entirely self-contained. Yet here she was asking this man for advice on how to become a better her. It made her skin crawl. "Clearly-"
"Madam Mayor," Archie interrupted, his tone soothing. "Can you tell me about a time when you felt like you had no control?"
Regina stiffened. The question made her wholly uncomfortable. She hated remembering those times because remembering them brought her right back to those moments. The powerlessness of it all made her want to vomit, but she fought the nausea and steeled herself. This was for to better herself, she thought. She was going to do this right, or not at all. Otherwise – she should have left when she wanted to earlier.
There were obvious recent examples she could give him, but she decided that if honesty was how progress was made, she would shoot for brutal honesty to make the quickest progress she could. Despite the pain, she dug back in her memories.
"When I was a little girl," Regina began, "my mother was not very forgiving."
"For my tenth birthday, all I wanted was to go riding with my father. He and I had plans to visit a small valley not far from our castle. The kitchen staff was preparing a small lunch, and we were both excited about spending some time together. He was a busy man when I was younger, as my grandfather died not long after I was born. This was before, I presume, my mother fully took control of his kingdom. Perhaps it was the moment it started…"
Regina let out a small sigh. "The day before my birthday, my mother announced that there would be a ball on my birthday. I would be in fittings all day the next day so that I looked just the way she wanted me. It was, as she called it, my introduction into society. Never mind that I was already participating in court functions at that point."
"You're getting off track again."
"I told her that I didn't want a ball – that I just wanted to go riding with my father." Regina rubbed her forefinger and her thumb together, a small gesture that thoughts of her childhood brought back up. It was small enough that Cora hadn't really noticed, and it was the only sign of nervousness that Regina had been allowed.
"And what happened next?"
"My father was mysteriously called away to deal with something or another." Regina's lips trembled. "I had been looking forward to our ride for months, but she decided two days beforehand that it wouldn't happen."
"How did that make you feel?"
"Anger is a good way of deflecting," Archie said, his eyes focused on Regina, "because it hides what we're really feeling. Underneath your anger, what were you feeling?"
Regina took a moment before responding. "Small."
"That's a great observation," Archie praised – but ever eager to push her farther, tilted his head and asked, "When you feel small, what's your first reaction?"
"I want to destroy whoever made me feel small." Regina's hands fisted against her thighs. She remember just how badly she wanted to put Cora in her place – and the helpless fury as she stood there in a hideous gown while a seamstress poked her with needles. "I wanted… I wanted to be big again."
"What does feeling big entail?"
Regina licked her lips. "Powerful. It feels like nobody can take away my happiness."
Archie tapped his pen against his lips. "So your happiness is tangible?"
"What do you mean?"
"Someone can take it from you."
Regina's eyes darted to the side. "I still don't understand what you're getting at, bug."
"Your happiness. It's not something that comes from inside you, is it?" He leaned forward. "You find it outwardly. You find happiness in an outing with your father – or in Henry, or Emma, and so on."
"What's your point?"
"Have you ever felt happy?"
Regina focused on the wall behind his head, her jaw tight and her heart aching. This was too much, she thought to herself. She was too raw and too bare – and – and she had to do it, she reminded herself. "I don't remember."
"What do you feel?"
"Neutral." Regina returned her gaze to his face. "Sad. Angry."
"Permutations of those, I suppose."
"What do you feel when you're with Emma?"
"Depending on what idiotic thing she's done – neutral. But I can – smile. I can laugh, if I want to."
"Light." Regina closed her eyes, drawn into a memory of hugging him. "Peaceful."
Archie nodded. "We're out of time for today, Madam Mayor, but I have some things I want you to work on in the coming week. That is, if you want to come back?"
She sighed deeply and nodded.